Conductor André Previn died. I don't have a special feeling for or against him, but it seems a few celebrities were friends with him:
Apart from his famous conducting work, Previn was also a pianist (jazz and classical) and an esteemed (albeit hugely conservative) composer. His most famous composition is perhaps the operatic adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, with music that might be too opulent for its subject matter.
The orchestral song cycle Honey and Rue seems to have been cut from the same cloth:
Michael Gielen, who left us on 8 March at the age of 91, was best known as a chief exponent of modern music, although he also left us a Mahler cycle that divides opinions. To me his best recording is his Luigi Nono CD. In the piece "No hay camino, hay que caminar...Andrei Tarkovski", Gielen shows how attuned he is to the shadowy, stifled soundworld of late Nono. Each tiny rise in dynamics is registered as a heart-rending cry:
It shouldn't work, but it does: the combination of organ and guitar. Organist Peter Hurford is attracted by the chime-like quality of the sound of guitar, and he chose the appropriate registration on the organ to best compliment it.
So here's something different. Beth Gibbons (of Portishead fame), and one of my favourite vocalists, has apparently collaborated with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, to perform Henryk Gorecki's third symphony:
Admittedly, I knew nothing about the composer, but the arrangements are absolutely beautiful and dramatic. I'm definitely gonna check out more of his work. Also, I've always considered Beth Gibbon's voice to be quite fragile, which complemented the instrumentation in Portishead perfectly. So I was pleasantly surprised by how bombastic her voice it at times during this performance, while still retaining the more tender characteristic. A really good listen overall.
Gibbon's surprising good at this: her tone is beautiful and affecting. They had to transpose the vocal part downwards for her but the music is none the worse for it. Although compared with a trained soprano, her pianissimos are not secure. Penderecki's conducting is in want of transparency, especially during the last moment
Great thread. I more or less only listen to Classical. Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Vaughan Williams are favs. And as an atheist I should not like this piece, but it is sublime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDOENZediM8
Also been getting into P. Glass - Mad rush.
Not Ravel's masterpiece - that would be Daphnis and Chloe - but a gorgeous suite, masterfully interpreted in this recording. Ravel wrote these movements based on traditional dances of the Baroque, and the suite is dedicated to Couperin, one of the great French masters of the Baroque - hence its cheeky name, "Couperin's Tomb". The suite is quite famous, and makes wonderful use of the woodwind section, with particular love bestowed on the oboe.
The Prelude is a sunny morning, probably in Paris judging by the busy, competing figures running through the music like shoals salmon swimming up a stream, or streams of people bustling through a street. It becomes more pensive around figure 5, the cheeky woodwind lines still bouncing around but with a distinctly bluer mood - like we have stepped into the shade. Ravel's climaxes are famously abrupt, brief, and intense: at figure 9, the violas start to build, and the music rapidly becomes emotional, with a dazzling climax at figure 10 - yet still delicate, reserved and very French; Ravel is conceding his emotion rather than asserting it!
The Forlane, notoriously dissonant, is next. We begin with angular figures in the strings, and spiky harmonies in the woodwinds, and the jocular, slightly murky theme is bandied around between strings and woodwinds, its capricious nature difficult to get a grasp on. This section turns out to be a mere introduction, and moving into figure 3 with a fabulously dark cor Anglais line, Ravel stops teasing and reveals what this movement is really about.
An exquisite secondary theme, coy, tender, and dreamy, is stated at 3; the woodwinds hocket this still-severely-dissonant, but somehow impossibly sweet little dance figure to each other. The flutes begin, then the clarinets, the oboes, and finally cor Anglais has the last say, followed by a warm affirmation in the cor A. and strings. This short, utterly beautiful secondary theme is very dissonant throughout, but Ravel's magnificent orchestration and harmony construction make it sounds sweet instead of sour - this is what Impressionism, at its best, was about. A brief tertiary theme is stated, then the secondary, and then we return to the first - Ravel driving in reverse here - before hearing the rather sombre next section. The rest of the Forlane toys with themes and progresses through different moods, with a notably jarring one at fig. 16. Oboe once again is in the spotlight playing a silly, spiky theme, but is told off by the strings and tows the line as the movement winds down with sweet little interjections from different instruments.
The Menuet is the most explicitly emotive of the movements. The oboe, of course, leads off with a warm and tender theme, supported by the other double reeds. It continues, with the strings under it, and progresses through a very beautiful vocalistic passage, Ravel richly painting a vista of vivid colour and warm sunlight. A particularly tender moment sees the entire orchestra tapering off as the oboe, with the utmost delicacy, ascends an arpeggio, with only the 2nd bassoon in unison:
Shadows follow at 4, with the oboe silent and the other woodwinds playing a cool, wistful theme - think of the blue shadows in Monet paintings. It's repeated by the brass and clarinets with an astonishingly faithful retention of mood, despite dramatic changes in instrumentation. The strings take over, and the theme grows eerier and more menacing, but fades away and we once again hear the blueness of the wistful theme. But then, a heartbreakingly sweet oboe entry forces a change of key and mood, the oboe playing its beautiful song much higher now, to combat the darkness - if laboured tenderness exists, this is it. A very dramatic key change (G to B) as the strings take up the oboe theme, playing it with more passion but burdened by the darkness in the middle strings; the theme is now an emotional mixture of major AND minor, the woodwinds rejoining as the unsure theme is comforted by the little rising figure in the oboe and bassoon we heard before - now a major third higher - and the theme is then taken up by the flute, against dissonance; the oboe takes it again, with seemingly more warmth, but is interrupted by the cor Anglais, who, possessed by passion, sings a gorgeous version of the theme as tense chords condense and crescendo like a sudden storm. We get two bars - only two - of buildup, and then a resplendent Cmaj7 chord; a sweet sob of joy, crowns the menuet at figure 14; the (concert pitch) E in the clarinet forming a breathtaking bitonal effect against the high B in the strings and fl/ob. It almost immediately becomes a sad, sighing minor chord - Ravel climaxes, as stated, are brief and intense, and the movement floats away into a sunset sky, ending on an emotionally ambivalent Gmaj7 chord.
Rigaudon - a sprightly couples dance, and the jocular bouncing around of fragmentary themes like little breezes call to mind a windy summer day. After a strong exposition, we get a demure oboe solo, occasionally assisted by a masculine cor Anglais - a lady dancing with her gentleman. This eventually moves into a moment of summery, bittersweet horizon-staring - but then the jocular theme returns; come back and dance! And so we do, and the suite ends with a lovely flourish.
Shostakovich's Aphorisms, Op. 13 is an early work, written when he was 20, but the 10 pieces encapsulate his whole musical personality -- the sardonic, the wistful, the driven, the preoccupation with death -- in about 13 minutes. What they don't represent is his Jewabooism, because that came later.
The seventh piece, "Dance of Death", was obviously based on the plainchant Dies Irae. I remember, many years before, I tried to submit a list of compositions that quote Dies Irae to Wikipedia. They rejected me because I couldn't provide citations. How could I? Some of the pieces, like B.A. Zimmerman's Music to "The Feast of King Ubu", I only heard on the radio. For others, like Dallapiccola's Songs of Imprisonment, the quotation was not explicitly acknowledged in the sleeve notes. Never mind; it's Wikipedia's loss.
Josef Suk's Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra still languishes at the fringe of the standard repertory, which is a pity: this work is as big a romantic statement as can be, and gives the soloist every opportunity for virtuosic display. Maybe it is its awkward length: at a little more than 20 minutes, it won't fill the first half of a concert like the longer concertos by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky do.